Wednesday, July 23, 2008

San Diego restaurant- Super Cocina

Holy Mole- Rediscovering a Mexican mainstay
It might have been my 5’9, WASP-y, blonde friend that made us stand out at Super Cocina (3627 University Ave), or the way I pronounced my emphatic, “Hola!” with the “H.” Either way, the woman behind the counter dismissed our language barrier and just started ladeling samples from her sauna of steaming pans.

We had just entered…

The Taqueria Zone: Imagine you have stumbled upon a speck of an eatery, a rundown concrete box, whose cafeteria-like nature pushes plastic trays with pre-sectioned plates amongst the click of red and yellow tile.

The twist: Instead of non-decipherable, mystery meats from some hair-netted, kitchen Frau, traditional Mexican dishes are heaped with familial generosity into tangible tastings of patience. Chaffing dishes simmer meats to “fall off the bone” status and waft the sense/scents of Sunday dinner, where passed-down recipes run the kitchen:

Chicken mole- (dark brown) I had whole-heartedly dismissed mole from my repertoire, disliking its bitter, chocolate aftertaste, but this stood out with a distinct, peanut finish that had me questioning my prior prejudice.

Spicy pork- (red) fiery and tender in a roasted chili sauce, I labeled this “shredded heat” for its texture and spice.

Pork Verde- (green) this mild sauce didn’t lack forward flavors. Garlic and cilantro were punched up for a refreshing depth to this sometimes blander option.

From these favorites (and other options like carnitas, tacos and burritos), I chose two items for under $5 (including beans and rice), so I had to go with the spicy pork... and chicken mole. That’s how life-altering the mole was- they had converted me in minutes.

Not only had Super Cocina revolutionized the way I thought about mole, but about food in general. How many dishes had I written off that had another side to show me?

The mole wouldn't have even gotten a second glance if I hadn’t been offered a taste. The willingness of the staff to educate us with multiple samplings ensured pleasure from whatever was ordered and erased any chance of miscommunication, even if we spoke different languages.

I also threw in an empanada for good measure (fried dough is always a winner) and the horchata is one of those rare delights that’s just gross enough to work (who knew milk’s sweet, lumpy cousin could be so tasty?)

I recommend going before 7pm since the fresh pans usually stop flowing around then (they close at 8:30.) Take-out also makes sense if you want to sip a cerveza when downing a bowl of “shredded heat” because sadly enough, they don’t serve alcohol here. What they do serve: epiphanies by the plateful.

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